Media eat up absurd rape story

Posted: Jun 14, 2006 12:05 AM

I called it back in April.

When a black stripper claimed three white Duke University lacrosse players gang-raped her at a party, I knew instinctively it was a lie. The tale reeked of Tawana Brawley-like fabrications. At 15, Brawley claimed that six white men abducted and raped her, smeared her with feces and wrote racial epithets on her body. The media loved it.

It turned out that Brawley lied to get out of trouble for skipping school to see a jailbird ex-boyfriend. The media glommed on to the Duke rape story in a similar man-bites-dog fashion. Since news accounts of black-on-white crimes are rather commonplace, journalists jumped at the chance to exploit a fresh angle.

A story about an oppressed black woman—forced to take off her clothes in front of strange men in order to feed her children—raped and beaten by three drunken, privileged, lacrosse-playing “white boys” stirred the smoldering embers of race and class envy. Add to this volatile mixture a pandering white liberal prosecutor up for re-election against a black candidate in a heavily black city, and you’ve got the Most Absurd Rape Story of the Year.

As more evidence leaks out, it seems that my gut reaction was spot on. In the early stages of the Duke rape investigation, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong couldn’t keep his opinions to himself, talking to the media, holding race-pandering sessions at a black college and all but guaranteeing the DNA evidence would prove the rape allegations. When the tests failed to link any of the 46 men to the stripper-accuser, Nifong finally did what he should have done in the first place: kept his mouth shut.

Now we learn that Nifong had loads of exculpatory evidence. According to a defense motion filed last week , the stripper-accuser couldn’t get her story straight. Sgt. J. C. Shelton, who responded to Kim “Second Stripper” Roberts’s 911 call, took the stripper-accuser to a mental health facility where she first made the rape claim. At Duke University Medical Center, she changed her mind and decided she hadn’t been raped after all. A few minutes later she told a nurse she’d been raped.

The defense contends that contrary to information contained in a probable cause affidavit by Durham Police Investigator Benjamin Himan, the medical exam showed no signs of rape. The stripper-accuser told the examining nurse she hadn’t been choked and that no condoms, fingers or foreign objects were used during the alleged rape. The nurse noted that her arms, legs, head, neck, etc., were normal.

Whether the stripper-accuser was actually drunk that night is also in dispute, although she told a nurse she had one drink and was taking a muscle relaxer. She told a doctor she hadn’t been drinking or taking drugs, but the next day at the University of North Carolina Hospital, she said she had “a lot of alcohol that night.”

The defense motion includes handwritten statements by Kim Roberts (going by the name “Pittman”) and a man named Jarriel Johnson, who claimed to be the stripper-accuser’s driver. Johnson said he’d had sex with her a week before the party and had driven her to several “appointments” at hotels days before the incident.

To top it off, Roberts told Himan the rape allegations were a “crock” and that she’d been with the accuser the entire time except for a five minute period when she wouldn’t leave the party. Even more strange, the accuser claimed that Roberts assisted in the assault and stole her money.

Naturally, Nifong has “no comment.”

Despite the weakening foundation of his “rape case,” Nifong will move forward at least through the end of the year unless a judge stops him. Although he faced no Republican challenger in the May primary, one could spring up just in time for the November election. He’s not taking any chances with his career.

But he has no problem gambling with the lives of three men whose innocence becomes more apparent each day. Meanwhile, Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, all indicted on charges of first degree rape, sexual offense and kidnapping, hang in limbo as this bizarre drama plays out.

There are still some who say, “But none of this means the woman wasn’t raped.” That is true. Either the stripper-accuser is lying or all three players are lying. At this point I think it’s wise to trust the evidence.

And your instincts.